November 11, 1996


START SPREADIN' THE NEWS: Center Patrick Ewing and forward
Charles Oakley, New York's nucleus for the last eight seasons,
find themselves surrounded by a cast of newcomers who give the
team a fresh identity. Formerly bumpers and grinders, the Knicks
gave some defense but loaded up on firepower by adding starters
Larry Johnson (small forward), Allan Houston (shooting guard)
and Chris Childs (point guard).

YOUNG AND OLD: Three first-round draft choices with star
potential--forwards John Wallace, Walter McCarty and Dontae'
Jones--add depth to the frontcourt. So does 15-year veteran Buck
Williams, a free-agent acquisition. Williams will provide
leadership for the kids and be a hang-around guy for fellow
geezers Ewing, 34; Oakley, 32; and backup center Herb Williams,

EXTRA, EXTRA: Coach Jeff Van Gundy has been pushing his players
to sacrifice individual stats in the interest of team play. Case
study No. 1: shooting guard John Starks, whose starting job has
been usurped by Houston (page 106). What if Starks doesn't
respond well to his new role as sixth man? That's the stuff of
New York tabloid heaven and coaching hell.

IF THEY CAN MAKE IT HERE: Especially if Childs settles in at the
point, the Knicks will be the conference's top threat to unseat
the Bulls.


THE UNSHAQLED TRUTH: Orlando is one of the few teams that can
lose an All-Star of the magnitude of center Shaquille O'Neal,
who decamped for the Lakers, and still be a team many foes will
fear. This is guard Penny Hardaway's show now, and with his
increased offensive load, expect him to challenge for the league
scoring title.

THE OTHER GUYS: If the Magic, who couldn't win a title with
Shaq, is to approach last season's 60-22 record without him, its
new acquisitions--center Rony Seikaly and forwards Derek Strong
and Gerald Wilkins--have to complement Hardaway. Even more
important, hot-and-cold shooters forward Dennis Scott and guard
Nick Anderson must perform as consistently as power forward
Horace Grant.

PIVOTAL acquisition: Seikaly, obtained from the Warriors last
Saturday, gives the Magic a low-post threat in the middle to
replace O'Neal, which is one more reason the Magic will still be
a formidable team. But it's worth noting that Seikaly's scoring
average has steadily declined from 17.1 four years ago to 12.1
last season.

WEATHER REPORT: Mild and mostly sunny, typical for Orlando,
where Penny World, not Disney World, could become known as the
Magic Kingdom.


JUWANGATE: To make a long story short, free-agent forward Juwan
Howard, who figures to be an All-Star for the next decade or so,
is back in Washington after an aborted attempt to jump to the
Heat. With Howard still in place, and with guard Rod Strickland
coming in to run the show, the Bullets, 39-43 last season,
should become a playoff team and could even be the "in"
attraction inside the Beltway.

LYNAM SCHOOL OF DIPLOMACY: Strickland, acquired from Portland,
and power forward Chris Webber, who's coming off shoulder
surgery, have reputations for being hard to handle. But coach
Jim Lynam says that so far the team is just one big happy
family. "I don't like that phrase to handle," said Lynam in
response to a question about how he would deal with Strickland
and Webber.

WASHINGTON MONUMENT: Gheorghe Muresan, the 7'7" Romanian-born
pivot, was voted the NBA's Most Improved Player last season, but
he still must show he can hold his own against the division's
better centers, such as Ewing and Miami's Alonzo Mourning.


AFTERGAFFE: When the Juwan Howard deal blew up in coach Pat
Riley's face, he had to go to Plan B--the signing of two other
free agents, guard Dan Majerle, a former All-Star, and forward
P.J. Brown, a steady player who already seems to be a Riley
favorite. "P.J.'s an exceptional defensive player, one of the
best I've coached," says Riley, "and he's got a good inside game."

MIAMI NICE: Center Alonzo Mourning and point guard Tim Hardaway
give Heat fans a reason to believe that, even without Howard,
the team can improve on last season's 42-40 record. "They're
looking to me as the franchise player," 'Zo says. And Mourning
better come through: Miami is paying him $105 million over seven
years. They're also looking for Hardaway to continue his work of
last season, when he led Miami with eight assists per game and
was second in scoring with a 15.2 average. In addition, forward
Kurt Thomas showed enough promise in his rookie year to possibly
become a major contributor.

A DETOUR ON THE CAUSEWAY: The failure to land Howard was a
severe blow to Riley's fast-lane rebuilding plan. "This is not
the team we wanted to build," Riley admits. "Our identity will
develop as the year goes on." This sounds like a variation on
the old wait-till-next-year theme.


THE BOSS: New Jersey gave new coach-director of basketball
operations John Calipari a five-year, $15 million contract, thus
assuring the former UMass coach that the Nets don't expect
miracles overnight.

NO JERSEY JOKES: In 7'6" center Shawn Bradley and 6'10" power
forward Jayson Williams, the Nets have two budding giants.
Combined, they averaged more than 18 rebounds and four blocked
shots for last season's 30-52 team. In Kendall Gill the Nets
have a solid shooting guard. Assuming he stays healthy, Robert
Pack should be at least serviceable as Chris Childs's
replacement at the point. In the preseason Calipari liked what
he saw of guard Kerry Kittles, the team's first-round draft pick.

EDDIE O, TAKE YOUR SHOT: Calipari hoped free-agent signee David
Benoit would be the answer at small forward. But when Benoit
went down for the season with a ruptured Achilles tendon, Ed
O'Bannon, who was disappointing as a rookie, suddenly began
showing the sort of play that led the Nets to make him their
first-round draft pick in '95.


BACK (COURT) TO THE FUTURE: Spectacular but turnover-prone
rookie point guard Allen Iverson, 21, the first player picked in
last spring's draft, and second-year shooting guard Jerry
Stackhouse should feed nicely off each other. Along with
Philly's new arena, the CoreStates Center, they at least give
Philly's long-suffering (five straight losing seasons) fans
reason to show up.

A MIXED BLESSING? Power forward Derrick Coleman, who was
sidelined for all but 11 games last season by an irregular
heartbeat and a sprained ankle, has declared, "I'm ready to make
myself known to the people of Philadelphia." Hmmm. Coleman might
learn by watching the effort of underappreciated small forward
Clarence Weatherspoon.

THINGS TO WORRY ABOUT: Coleman's weight, his sulking and a
propensity for injuries; the inexperience of rookie coach Johnny
Davis; 34-year-old Michael Cage starting at center...and so
on. The 76ers appear to be headed in the right direction, but
the distance between Philly and New York is a lot farther than
it looks on the map.


LOOKING FOR LARRY: Under shrewd top executive Red Auerbach, the
Celtics were always able to find fresh superstars to replace
those who departed. However, now they're essentially a team of
nonentities. Or, to put it another way, nobody has ever viewed
forward Dino Radja, last season's leading scorer, as the second
coming of Larry Bird. "We're still looking for that one-two
combination that can contend with, say, Michael Jordan and
Scottie Pippen," says coach-director of basketball operations
M.L. Carr. First-round draft pick Antoine Walker might
eventually fill one of those one-two vacancies.

CALLING RICK PITINO? The Celts have two chances to match last
season's 33-49 record: slim and none. They have quantity at both
shooting guard (Dana Barros, Dee Brown, Rick Fox and Greg Minor)
and small forward (Fox, Walker and Eric Williams), but there's
not enough quality to keep them out of the cellar--or Carr in
his coaching job for long.

COLOR ILLUSTRATION: ICONS BY MICHAEL CUSTODE [Icon featuring basketball and New York City skyline] COLOR PHOTO: JOHN W. MCDONOUGH Teamed with a maturing Stackhouse, the streaky Iverson (dishing, right) will drive Sixers fans to delight--and despair. [Allen Iverson in game against Washington Bullets]